The Oregon Ducks Have Cancerous Flaws


There’s an old saying attributed to English historian and philosopher Thomas Fuller that goes, “The darkest hour is just before the dawn.” I’m sure you’ve heard this saying in one way or another. It’s intended to give hope to those who have none and to those who see no end in sight for their suffering.

After this weekend, I think our the Oregon Ducks fan base needs to hear this saying.

I’m not going to rehash the thorough disemboweling of the Webfoots on Saturday afternoon, although I’m pretty sure what the Huskies did to us was in violation of the Geneva Conventions. I’m here to talk about the road ahead, and, while it probably won’t get much worse, it might take more than a year or two before it gets better.

The issues of this program are systemic and have been developing longer than we care to admit. They were disguised by a transcendent player in Marcus Mariota, but the cancer was there nonetheless. It was easy to see for anyone who bothered to look, but we as fans were so wrapped up in success that we overlooked the obvious shortcomings.

The defense has been a mess for years. The last two seasons have been impossible to ignore, but even when Mariota was here, the defense lived and died with the turnover and was rarely asked to make stops in a competitive game. When they were most needed, they usually wilted. Last year, the ineptitude was at its peak, when we ranked No. 116 in total defense out of 127 FBS teams.

Brady Hoke needs to be given the opportunity to run a defense with players that fit the scheme.

Gary Breedlove

Hoke needs the opportunity to run a defense with players who fit the scheme.

That being said, the defense can be fixed, but not overnight. I’m not positive Brady Hoke is a good defensive coordinator, but it’s not entirely fair to make an assessment on his defense just yet. He needs a couple years of recruiting under his belt to find players who fit his system before we break out the pitchforks. Right now, he’s primarily using defenders recruited for Don Pellum’s bend-but-don’t-break 3-4 defense in his attacking 4-3 scheme.

That’s a tough transition to make and explains why true freshmen such as linebacker Troy Dye and safety Brenden Schooler are getting so many reps.

The more disturbing trend is a lack of fight and apparent apathy that seems to have infiltrated the locker room. With Schooler coming out and saying that players “just don’t care” and seem entitled, one has to wonder where the “Win the Day” culture went. Chip Kelly teams weren’t perfect, but they never quit. The same can be said for Mike Bellotti’s Ducks, which experienced much more adversity than Kelly’s ever did.

We are the few, the proud, the "don't fire Mark Helfrich" club.

Gif from Arrested Development

We are the few, the proud, the “don’t fire Mark Helfrich” club.

It’s easy to say that a coaching change would fix this program. But is it actually the right move right now? I am among the few (along with Athletic Director Rob Mullens) that say the time isn’t right to fire Mark Helfrich. There was a wonderful article this week on our site by Brian Libby titled, “Firing Mark Helfrich Is Fool’s Gold,” that does a great job explaining why exactly our little group feels this way.

Don’t get me wrong here, if Helfrich can’t put together some positive momentum after the bye, he will enter next year on a scalding hot seat, and he will have earned every degree. But he will enter next season as Oregon’s head coach, and that’s probably a good thing.

Ultimately, this season is a lost cause only if you look at it in terms of wins and losses. From other perspectives, there is a lot this team can do to salvage the campaign.

Tony Brooks-James has shown that hes the next in a long line of great Oregon running backs.

Rhianna Gelhart

Tony Brooks-James has shown that he’s the next in a long line of great Oregon running backs.

This team has shown that it has its bright spots. Despite the loss, true freshman quarterback Justin Herbert played tough against a ferocious defense in his first career start. The offensive line hasn’t been great thus far, but it is starting four redshirt freshmen who will only get better as they mature. Running backs coach Gary Campbell keeps churning out all-American-caliber running backs, and Tony Brooks-James looks to be next in line in just his second year of eligibility.

Dye and Schooler have been good on defense at times, but more importantly, Schooler, in particular, seems to have taken it upon himself to be a vocal presence in a locker room that is completely devoid of them. For a team in desperate need of leadership, it’s encouraging to see a true freshman step up in that regard.

What this team needs to do most is show something it hasn’t shown yet this season: temerity.

It needs to show that the petulance described by Schooler and others is a thing of the past. It needs to go out there and show some pride. This program and its fans (the loyal ones anyway; let the bandwagoners head up I-5 to Seattle) are a historically proud bunch, and the team needs to start playing like the O means something to them. Defend Autzen Stadium. Play hard for all 60 minutes. Walk off that turf knowing that you did all you could for the uniform (whichever one we happen to be wearing that day).

Doing this won’t save the 2016 season. But it will show Oregon fans, the Pac-12 and the rest of the country that while the darkest hour may be upon us, the sun is rising.

Top Photo by Rhianna Gelhart

Disclaimer: Readers: Every writer on is allowed to express their opinion in their articles. However, articles do not represent the views of the other writers, editors, coaching consultants, management, or the principals of    Charles Fischer

Jay Garnett
Portland, Maine

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Jay Garnett

Jay Garnett

Jay is a transplant to Duck Nation. He grew up in southern Maine, tragically knowing nothing of Oregon football prior to the 2007 college football season, when Dennis Dixon willed the Ducks into the national consciousness before tearing his ACL late in the year. Since then, the Ducks have consumed every Saturday from August to February. Jay graduated from the U of O with a degree in Journalism in the spring of 2014. Perhaps more impressively, he didn't miss a single game in Autzen stadium during his four years in Eugene.

  • Brian Libby

    Superb post, Jay. It’s true that the defense has been a problem for a long time. Even in 2012, when Kelly was still there and Marcus was in his first year as a starter, I remember going to the season opener and thinking, ‘If we are giving up 34 points to Arkansas State we may be in trouble.” With Marcus and a host of great skill players we went 11-1 that year, won the Fiesta Bowl and finished No. 2 in the country, but even then it was in spite of the defense. To actually take a tumble from that defense means we have a really terrible one. Yet as you asserted, the cancer that has infected this team can be sent into remission with a combination of mental re-commitment and giving a group of mostly 3-4 players a few more weeks to get better. We may finish 2-10 this year for all I know, but in addition to needing some stellar recruiting this winter we need to keep the faith.

  • Mike Green

    look at this to see points given up:

    from 2007 to 2013, the defense was overall, pretty good, even though they had a few bad games…

    it all started falling apart in 2014, then 2015 was worse, and now this year they are the worst in all of college football

    Allioti retired after the 2013 season — I think THAT says something

    I remember during those years that the defense would make a LOT of good plays, but would get beat occasionaly.

    In the last game, the ducks gained 409 yards, but only got 21 points. Those are the kind of stats that the ducks defense gave up against very good teams back in the 2007 to 2013 range.

    Also recall that during that time frame, there were a lot of really good players on the defense, especially the defensive backs.

    Ducks just don’t have the players anymore. And when the defensive backfield of 2014 graduated, the defense went from being so-so to horrible. That was not from coaching. That was from a drop off in talent.

  • DonealDuck

    It is a well accepted fact that the 2006 team quit on Mike Belotti. Belotti, new at the time offensive coordinator Chip Kelly and the other coaches had the now almost famous outing where they and the players threw the old out and came together, and the 2007 championship and DD heisman runs were created until countless injuries derailed it all.

    How much of it was the outing and changed attitude of the team and how much of it was new coordinator Kelly is probably impossible to dissect.

    Chip Kelly’s ‘deer in the headlights’ look during his first game as head coach against BSU in 2009 was an inauspicious start, but the huge win against Cal 3 games later gave the players confidence and the new ‘elite’ Oregon was born.

    I think all Oregon fans hope that once again the coaches and players can come together and lose that ‘deer in the headlights’ look and play with temerity once again.

    • Good comments, although 2006 was the final year of Gary Crowton as OC.

      • DonealDuck

        true that

    • Mike Green

      the elite Oregon was born in the Joey days — then again when Dennis Dixon and the ducks beat Oklahoma

      I really hate that ‘quit’ talk – ducks played some good teams at the end of ’06, including a good beavers team

      From what I remember at the time, the November games were hard on teams that did not have depth – like the surging ducks

  • Platypus

    Defense…I agree Jay, Oregon has not had a great one for a long time, maybe never. Good ones for sure but great? Teams like Bama that continue to win playing third string QB’s tell you where the recruiting need should be. Every year we hear about how great the D coaches are at Oregon but are they? They have coached up 2-3 star kids pretty well in the past but now…maybe it’s age related. I think Hoke needs his own staff…sink or swim and then we can decide. (side note) Does having a type ‘A’ personality an requirement to be a great coach or leader? Looking at all the top programs you would have to conclude that it does. What type is MH?

  • Fun read, and the GIF is precisely what I feel like-it’s perfect.

    But….our defense in Pellum’s first year only gave us 23 points a game to be second in the conference to Stanford in scoring defense.

  • DonealDuck

    I just did an analysis of the 2007 – 2015 seasons, as chosen in this article, in order to determine if ‘the defense has been a mess for years’

    In those 9 season, Oregon had 22 losses total. That means the average season was 11-2. If ANYBODY would have been told prior to the 2007 season that Oregon would have 9 seasons of 11-2 average followed by a disastrous season of 2-10 (taking worst case scenario here) EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US would have taken that deal.

    I looked at the scores of those 22 losses. Back in the ‘leather helmet days’ when I played (ok I’m not quite that old haha!) we figured if we held the other team to 14 we win for sure and if we score 28 we win for sure. Today’s offensively driven football for tv viewership is totally different. I think that line is now 28 to 31 points, basically a touchdown per quarter.

    I looked at the scores from the 22 games:
    15 of those games the defense allowed more than 28 points.
    16 of those games the offense failed to score at least 31 points.

    8 of the 22 losses could be put on the defense. 9 of those losses can be put on the offense. 5 of the losses were total team losses.

    I am sorry, but that does not look like a defense that has ‘been a mess for years’, despite us yelling about Allow-a-Lotti back then. haha!

    However, starting with the national championship game in 2014, now including 2016, while 6 of the 11 losses during that most recent time period the offense failed to score enough points, the defense has allowed 31 or more points in every single one of the losses.

    The best performance of the Oregon defense was BY FAR the Azz years of 2009 – 2012, when only 3 of the 7 losses could be ‘blamed’ on the defense and 5 of the losses could be ‘blamed’ on the offense.

    It has been my opinion for 2 years now that losing coach Azz was quite possibly the ‘biggest loss’ to Oregon football at that time, and I believe even statistically that can be substantiated.

    • MarcTheDuck

      Agree that Azz appeared to be a good D coach and I would have liked to have had him become our DC. Also the brief period when Charlie Waters was the DC the Duck D was rated as high as #8 in the country – his last year. I would have liked to see him stay longer as well.

      • DonealDuck

        Azz came for Chip and he was going to leave with Chip. The ‘job title’ was obviously not as important to him. I doubt that there was any possible way that we could have retained him instead of him leaving with Chip.

        I remember the same feeling about Waters. Didn’t he leave because of a family issue like a health issue with a child?

    • Mike Green

      Great post – but the 2010 team lost its stamina in the natty and let Auburn drive the length of the field. The safety (forgot his name) was the only one making tackles on running plays during that drive.

      The 2007 team had a good defense too.

      • DonealDuck

        Yes, I agree – 2007 was quite a stout defense, giving up a ‘game losing total’ only one time, in the loss to Cal, before DD was out for the season and the QB play was so horrific that it put the defense in an unwinable position, and even then they held i think UCLA to only 16 points while the Duck offense did literally zero the entire game.

        As for Auburn, please see my new post above.

        The safeties were Boyett and Pleasant. Boyett made the tackle that visibly hurt sCam for really the only time he had been rocked all year. Pleasant made/missed the phantom tackle on the last drive. The defense was borderline spectacular the rest of the game, especially if you take away deep wheel route plays on which you as a coach assigned your best rusher lined up on the line of scrimmage to cover backs and receivers deep one on one …… !!???

        • Mike Green

          and don’t forget that great play by Matthews when he stripped the ball to get it back for the offense

          If we only had Pleasant and Boyett right now???

  • Jay Garnett

    Thanks for the great comments everybody! Love to see everyone getting defensive (forgive the pun).

    I would argue with a few points. Firstly, I’m not entirely sure 28 points allowed is the barometer we want to test our defense with. And 31 points, while doable, is a tough order for the offense week in and week out, especially against top teams. And when I say that the defense hasn’t been good for years, I’m mostly referring to how it plays against top competition. The points per game stat becomes meaningless in a slugfest where the opposing offense dictates the entire gameplan and keeps our strength (typically the offense) off the field.

    Platypus, you make a great point here. I’m not expecting the Ducks D to suddenly turn to a dominant force, but for a program that has to be considered as one of the elite college football programs of the last decade, it’s hard to justify the ever-worsening struggles on that side of the ball. There has been a drop off in talent that is atypical of top programs, and it’s hard to explain beyond “Mark Helfrich sucks, rabble rabble!”

    • DonealDuck

      You strengthen my point exactly, Jay. A ‘slugfest’ by definition is a low-scoring affair in which your own offense is the one which is struggling and your defense is keeping you in the game by holding the score down.

      I am sure if you studied 2009 to 2012 you will find that Oregon in the large percentage of it’s games held the opposition to a lower score than it’s season average even despite the fast paced Oregon offense giving the opposition the ball back quickly.

      The NC game against Auburn is the perfect example. Auburn averaged 41.2 points that season. If you had been told before the game that Oregon would hold Auburn to 22 points you would have jumped up and down with joy and put all the money you could find in the cracks of your couch on that game, ‘KNOWING’ that the Ducks would ‘surely score more than that!’. It wasn’t the defense which cost Oregon that game, but the offense, which didn’t even come close it’s 47 point per game average.


    Yes I agree with some but there is talent on that Defense and most these guys if they’ve played defense or Football since they were small they should know the in’s and outs of either defense. I mean 2 people that are talented on this defense doesn’t quite add up to the classes and all of them have been in the TOP 25. Thats not close to what we used to get in recruiting when belotti was coaching even though he did pull in some good classes. There is talent on this D and Hoke and Pellum seem to be lost as Neal has pretty much held his own but I don’t care how good you are on the backend of your D if your front 4 cannot get heat on the QB then your toast. I still believe if Helfrich continues to get beat by big numbers and these kids look the same lethargic play they play with he won’t be given next year because why would he. Theres still too much talent to have lost to Colorado and Helfrich cost us the Nebraska game so we should be 4-0.

  • rick baird

    while the game has changed since cas retired, but i ask if you remember the fall of the mighty ducks over the next 25 pluse years Brooks and Bellotti both suffered bad years. go look at the records before calling for major coaching changes. keep the faith we are not down for the count, karma has hit us this year shake it off get up and play the next down. been a duck since we were webfeet.

  • Ken Weeks

    Oregon didn’t get to where they were blindly. Getting top notch linemen was always difficult. Oregon found ways to compete with what they had, Hoke coming in and attempting a defensive plan that doesn’t fit the personnel or reality is a mistake. Hoke could have given his predecessors some credit, rather than making wholesale changes immediately. I watch other teams make bad defensive plays, and then remind myself that what I saw wasn’t Oregon bad. Hoke is a joke and an idiot. Helfrich hired him. They both have outlived their tenure.

  • duckusucker

    NO one was prepared for Kelly’s offensive innovation: combining zone-read w/ferocious tempo and very talented dual-threat QBs. That was it. It took years for Ds to catch up— it entailed not only different athletes, but different conditioning. As importantly, it also meant that many offenses adopted these exact same schemes, giving their Ds a familiarity with the offense.
    Now, the weakness of the Duck recruiting, a weakness that always has been there, is finally exposed. Helf rode the wave with two amazing QBs, Mariota and Adams. But the wave has broken upon the shore and so has the team and the season.
    I think Helf (and Hoke) should get one more year to prove themselves— even the greatest coaches suffer bad downturns. But if the needle isn’t spiking up next year, ciao!

  • jsquigg

    Hilarious that someone who literally jumped on the Duck bandwagon is telling bandwagoners to hit I-5 to Seattle…..